The word lituus originally meant a curved augural staff, or a curved war-trumpet in the ancient Latin language. This Latin word continued in use through the 18th century as an alternative to the vernacular names of various musical instruments.
Roman ritual wand
The lituus was a crooked wand (similar in shape to the top part of some Western European crosiers) used as a cult instrument in ancient Roman religion by augurs to mark out a ritual space in the sky (a templum). The passage of birds through this templum indicated divine favor or disfavor for a given undertaking.
The lituus was also used as a symbol of office for the college of the augurs to mark them out as a priestly group.
The ancient lituus was an Etruscan high-pitched brass instrument, which was straight but bent at the end, in the shape of a letter J, similar to the Gallic carnyx. It was later used by the Romans, especially for processional music and as a signalling horn in the army. For the Roman military it may have been particular to the cavalry, and both the Etruscan and Roman versions were always used in pairs, like the prehoistoric lurer. Unlike the Roman litui, the Etruscan instruments had detachable mouthpieces and in general appear to have been longer. The name lituus is Latin, thought to have been derived from an Etruscan cultic word describing a soothsayer's wand modelled on a shepherd's crook and associated with sacrifice and favourable omens. Earlier Roman and Etruscan depictions show the instrument used in processions, especially funeral processions. Players of the lituus were called liticines, though the name of the instrument appears to have been loosely used (by poets, not likely by soldiers) to describe other military brass instruments, such as the tuba or the buccina. In 17th-century Germany a variant of the bent ancient lituus was still used as a signalling horn by nightwatchmen.
From the end of the 10th through the 13th centuries, chroniclers of the Crusades used the word lituus vaguely—along with the Classical Latin names for other Roman military trumpets and horns, such as the tuba, cornu, and buccina and the more up-to-date French term trompe—to describe various instruments employed in the Christian armies. However, it is impossible to determine just what sort of instrument might have been meant, and it is unlikely there litui were the same as the Etrusco-Roman instrument.
In the early 15th century, Jean de Gerson listed the lituus among those string instruments that were sounded by beating or striking, either with the fingernails, a plectrum, or a stick. Other instruments Gerson names in this category are the cythara, guiterna, psalterium, timpanum, and campanula.
Throughout the postclassical era the name lituus continued to be used when discussing ancient and Biblical instruments, but with reference to contemporary musical practice in the Renaissance it usually referred to "bent horns" made of wood, particularly the crumhorn and the cornett. The crumhorn was especially associated with the lituus because of the similarity of its shape. The equation of the crumhorn with the lituus was especially strong among German writers. A 1585 English translation of Hadrianus Junius's Nomenclator defines lituus as "a writhen or crooked trumpet winding in and out; a shaulme" (i.e., shawm), but a polyglot edition of the same book published in 1606 demonstrates how differently the term might have been understood in various languages at that time: German Schalmey, Krumme Trommeten, Krumhorn; Dutch Schalmeye; French Claron, ou cleron; Italian Trombetta bastarda; Spanish Trompeta curua, ò bastarda. The early Baroque composer and author Michael Praetorius used the word as a Latin equivalent of the German "Schallmeye" (shawm) or for the "Krumbhoerner" (crumhorns)—in the latter case also offering the Italian translations storti, and cornamuti torti.
A more particular term, lituus alpinus, was used in 1555 by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner when he published the earliest detailed description of the Alphorn: "nearly eleven feet long, made from two pieces of wood slightly curved and hollowed out, fitted together and skillfully bound with osiers".
A study made of Swedish dictionaries found that during the seventeenth century lituus was variously translated as sinka (= German Zink, cornett), krumhorn, krum trometa (curved trumpet), claret, or horn.
In the eighteenth century the word once again came to describe contemporary brass instruments, such as in a 1706 inventory from the Ossegg monastery in Bohemia, which equates it with the hunting horn: "litui vulgo Waldhörner duo ex tono G". Nevertheless, in 1732 Johann Gottfried Walther referred back to Renaissance and Medieval definitions, defining lituus as "a cornett, formerly it also signified a shawm or, in Italian tubam curvam, a HeerHorn". (Heerhorn or Herhorn was a Middle High German name for a metal, slightly curved military signal horn, approximately five feet long, played with the bell turned upward.) In 1738, the well-known horn player Anton Joseph Hampel served as a godfather at the baptism of a daughter of the renowned Dresden lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss. In the baptismal register he was described as "Lituista Regius"—"royal lituus player". In the second half of the 18th century the lituus was described in one source as a Latin name for the trumpet or horn.
The only known Baroque composition specifying an instrument by the Latin name lituus is Bach's motet O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (BWV 118). Scientists from Edinburgh University tried to recreate the lituus in May 2009, in the form of a long wooden trumpet, when the instrument had been out of use for 300 years.
- "lituus". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Sibyl Marcuse, "Lituus", Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary, corrected edition, The Norton Library N758 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1975): 312 ISBN 0-393-00758-8; Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments: Their History and Development (London: Faber and Faber; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976): 58, 60, 65. ISBN 0-684-15229-0.
- James W. McKinnon, "Lituus", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001); Anthony Baines, Brass Instruments: Their History and Development (London: Faber and Faber; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976): 65–66. ISBN 0-684-15229-0.
- John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan, The Trumpet (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012): 73.
- Christopher Page, "Early 15th-Century Instruments in Jean de Gerson's 'Tractatus de Canticis'", Early Music 6, no. 3 (July 1978): 339–49. Citation on 344.
- Don Michael Randel, "Lituus", The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). ISBN 978-0674011632
- Kenton Terry Meyer, "The Crumhorn", PhD thesis (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1981): 10, 20.
- Kenton Terry Meyer, "The Crumhorn", PhD thesis (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1981): 21–22.
- Michael Praetorius, Syntagmatis Musici, Tomus Secundus: De Organographia (Wolffenbüttel: Elias Holwein, 1619): 3, 40.
- "longum ferè ad pedes undecim, duobus lignis modicè incuruis & excauatis compactum, & uiminibus scitè obligatum" (Conrad Gessner, De raris et admirandis herbis qvae sive qvod noctv luceant, siue alias ob causas, lunariae nominantur, commentariolus : & obiter de alijs etiam rebus quæ in tenebris lucent : inferunter & icones quedam herbarum nove : eivsdem descriptio Montis Fracti, siue Montis Pilati, iuxta Lucernam in Heluetia : his accedvnt Io. Dv Chovl G.F. Lugdunensis, Pilati Montis in Gallia descriptio : Io Rhellicani Stockhornias, qua Stockhornus mons altissimus in Bernensium Heluetiorum agro, versibus heroicis describitur. Tigvri [Zurich]: Apud Andream Gesnerum F. & Iacobvm Gesnerum, frates, 1555): 52.
- Kenton Terry Meyer, "The Crumhorn", PhD thesis (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1981): 20–21, citing Stig Walin, "Musikinstrumenttermer i äldre svenska lexikon", Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning 30 (1948): 5–40; 31 (1949), 5–82.
- James W. McKinnon, "Lituus", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001); Sibyl Marcuse, "Lituus", Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary, corrected edition, The Norton Library N758 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1975. ISBN 0-393-00758-8.
- Johann Gottfried Walther, Musicalisches Lexicon Oder Musicalische Bibliothec: Darinnen nicht allein Die Musici, welche so wol in alten als neuern Zeiten, ... durch Theorie und Praxis sich hervor gethan, ... angeführet, Sondern auch Die in Griechischer, Lateinischer, Italiänischer und Frantzösischer Sprache gebräuchliche Musicalische Kunst- oder sonst dahin gehörige Wörter, ... vorgetragen und erkläret (Leipzig: Wolffgang Deer, 1732): 367.
- Sibyl Marcuse, "Heerhorn", "Herhorn", Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary, corrected edition, The Norton Library N758 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1975. ISBN 0-393-00758-8.
- Hans-Joachim Schulze, "O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht: On the Transmission of a Bach Source and the Riddle of Its Origin", in A Bach Tribute: Essays in Honor of William H. Scheide, edited by Paul Brainard and Ray Robinson, 209–20 (Kassel and New York: Bärenreiter; Chapel Hill: Hinshaw Music, 1993): 214. ISBN 978-0-937276-12-9.
- Ignaz Franz Xaver Kürzinger, Getreuer Unterricht zum Singen mit Manieren, und die Violin zu spielen (Augsburg: Johann Jacob Lotter, 1763): 84.
- Pallab Ghosh, "'Lost' Music Instrument Recreated", BBC News (30 May 2009; accessed 30 May 2009).
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (1 June 2009). "Scientists Recreate Bachs Forgotten Horn". EPSRCvideo. YouTube. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
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- "Lituus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 16 (11th ed.). 1911.
- Gessner, Conrad. 1555. "Descriptio Montis Fracti iuxta Lvcernam, et primum Chorographica, praefertim quod ad paludem Pilati in eo memorabilem". In his De raris et admirandis herbis qvae sive qvod noctv luceant, siue alias ob causas, lunariae nominantur, commentariolus : & obiter de alijs etiam rebus quæ in tenebris lucent : inferunter & icones quedam herbarum nove: eivsdem descriptio Montis Fracti, siue Montis Pilati, iuxta Lucernam in Heluetia: his accedvnt Io. Dv Chovl G.F. Lugdunensis, Pilati Montis in Gallia descriptio: Io Rhellicani Stockhornias, qua Stockhornus mons altissimus in Bernensium Heluetiorum agro, versibus heroicis describitur, 45–67. Tigvri [Zurich]: Apud Andream Gesnerum F. & Iacobvm Gesnerum, frates.
- Meucci, Renato. 1989. "Roman Military Instruments and the Lituus". The Galpin Society Journal 42 (August): 85–97.
- Szadrowsky, H. 1867–68. "Die Musik und die tonerzeugende Instrumente der Alpenbewohner: Eine kulturhistorische Skizze". Jahrbuch des schweizer Alpenclubs 4:275–352.